At SWEL we create an environment where children can continue to live out their childhood. We believe children learn best when the curriculum is child-centered, play-based, and emergent, based on their interests and passions. We also believe that by thoughtfully planning social experiences, activities, environments, and teacher-child interactions we facilitate children's success in kindergarten and beyond.
Our educational philosophy is embraced on the practices of Reggio Emilia, Soy Bilingue, and Cultural Relevancy and Anti-Bias practices.
Our curriculum is shaped by our commitment to emergent curriculum and anti-bias practices, and by the proven ideas and experiences of the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
SWEL Preschool is modeled after the preschools of Reggio Emilia Italy. The Reggio Schools were founded shortly after WWII by Loris Malaguzzi and are acknowledged as among the finest systems of early childhood education in the world.
The “Reggio Emilia Approach” (Edwards, Forman and Gandini, 1993) is rich and complex, but there are a few key elements that can be said to form the foundation of this philosophy.
The first is an image of the child as strong, competent, and an active participant in creating his or her own educational experience. Next is the role of the teacher as researcher, nurturer, a valued professional, and a partner-in-learning with the child. There is an attention to the physical environment, both aesthetically and organizationally, so that the classroom can become the “third teacher” by encouraging creativity, curiosity and independence.
There is great emphasis on transparency on many levels, which is perhaps best materialized in the use of documentation of the children’s work to reflect the thinking of both the children and their teachers. This documentation is used for self reflection as well as communication with families.
The Reggio approach demonstrates that learning is deepest when it happens in relationship, between children and materials, children and their peers, and children and teachers. Finally there is acknowledgment that the child’s family is the “first teacher” and that the only way to provide a meaningful educational experience is for the teacher and the child’s family to be partners in learning.
Our program is inspired by children’s curiosity and natural inclination to learn through play.
At SWEL we strongly believe that play-based curriculum is the very best way to meet the developmental needs of the children in our care. Play based curriculum supports not only the more obvious physical and social emotional development of young children, but it also creates an environment where the teachers can fully engage in the Reggio inspired practice of emergent curriculum, thus meeting the children’s intellectual needs as well. When children are fully engaged in meaningful play, teachers are able to closely observe them as they work, collecting information about the children’s passions, developing hypotheses, and areas of growth. We use this data to plan “provocations” in the classroom for the children, with the goal of deepening their thinking, expanding their understanding, and giving them the opportunity to explore and master new skills.
Play based curriculum is also the perfect vehicle for practicing empathy and conflict resolution skills and for learning to work collaboratively with peers; skills that support the development of executive function and that are looked for when evaluating children for placement in elementary schools.
Teachers see children as active participants in their own learning.
Following the example of the master educators from Reggio Emilia, SWEL uses an emergent curriculum model. Also referred to as “child centered” curriculum, emergent curriculum describes a process where the teachers observe children at play, meet together to share their notes and come up with possible “next steps”, and then implement their ideas in the classroom.
One helpful description of this approach is to imagine that a child has a metaphorical ball of clay that he or she marks in some way, before tossing it to the teacher. The teacher then hypothesizes about the meaning of the child’s marks, and then makes her own mark on the ball, before tossing it back. If the teacher’s understanding of the child’s ideas were correct, the child will respond by accepting the ball, making new changes to it, and tossing it back again. In this way, knowledge and ideas are grown, challenged, changed, and expanded as the “ball” continues to be passed back and forth.
In the classroom, this might manifest itself in a teacher responding to a group of children’s interest in music by bringing in different instruments, exploring dance, or creating their own musical language. Embedded in this work, which follows the passion of the children involved, would be opportunities to explore physical movement, literacy, mathematical concepts, and social problem solving, as well as opportunities to expose the children to the music and dance of non-dominant cultures.
Because this work is so specific to the children involved, extended investigations seldom include all the children in a class, but instead are tailored to meet the needs of small groups of children and are usually facilitated by one teacher from the classroom team.
Creating a bilingual/bicultural environment where children can learn and appreciate two different languages and cultures.
Our dual language curriculum focuses on Spanish and English in the classroom, our children gain a rich understanding of both languages, our goal is for children to leave our program being bilingual and bicultural. Having a dual language program is a valuable way of developing language proficiency in another language besides English. Our program provides music, books, activities and everything in the classroom is labeled and color coordinated in the two languages so children are able to see and recognize their everyday classroom items in the two languages. All of our teachers are also fluent in both Spanish and English, enabling them to aid the children in learning Spanish or English at their own speed and being able to go back and forth between both languages. Our dual language model is currently- Time Based Model, where two days are English and two days are Spanish, making the children participate not only in social activities but also the learning activities in both Spanish and English.
In order to have a strong dual language curriculum, these are the strategies we implement:
- Have a language plan: When the school year begins, both parents and children are told what days classes are taught in English and which in Spanish so the parents and children understand that there is a big emphasis on a bilingual program.
- Critical mass and creating a language community:Creating a community of strong Spanish/English speaking children where non-Spanish or non-English speaking children can learn from when interacting and working alongside them.
- The role of parentese: Working alongside parents to support a child’s second language development through different opportunities at the school and resources we provide.
- A few new words at a time and natural repetition:Working on a few new words at a time for a child to learn and grasp the meaning of these words really well before learning more words. Finding ways to use natural repetition through songs, poems,games and sayings for children to grasp the concept of these new words.
- Total physical response method: Involves teaching commands and other language elements while making movements related to the meaning of the word.
- Using books and stories: Using books and stories in the children’s level of language learning to help provide context and language models.
- Making meaning in their school community:Enabling the children to understand and utilize the language and culture they are learning about in their everyday community.
- Linguistically and culturally relevant environment:This is where the language and environment reflects the community that we serve.
- Information is gathered at the end of the school year for each child's first and second language development through the getting to know books and portfolios.
Because of our shared values of anti-racism and social justice, we look for opportunities in childrens’ play to challenge their thinking about ethnic, cultural, disability, family, class and gender bias.
While SWEL is committed to emergent curriculum, we’re also dedicated to our shared values of anti-racism and social justice. Because of this, we look for opportunities in the children’s play to challenge their thinking about ethnic, cultural, disability, family, class and gender bias. When necessary, we even create situations of “disequilibrium” to provoke questions and create room for new ideas.
Our goal is to grow these discussions naturally from topics children are already engaged in, but because of our belief in the importance of this work, we won’t always wait for the subject to emerge from the children. At these times, we very carefully and intentionally introduce new activities or topics of discussions to share with the children in our care.
Some examples of this are bringing in books about social activism to share at meeting time, mixing paint to match our own skin tones in the art studio, setting out construction vehicles with female construction workers, or using our “persona dolls” to tell stories from a different cultural perspective.
We consistently share our intensions and activities with families through parent meetings, classroom newsletter, e-mails, and printed documentation posted in the classrooms, and make ourselves available for questions and new ideas.
Children use the language of art to build deeper understandings of their world.
At SWEL, we put a lot of emphasis on the way we document childrenʼs lives in the classroom. Our curriculum is the life of the classroom, and the way we document that life will give you window onto your childʼs daily experience.
By observing children, discussing our findings, and writing up our thoughts and ideas, we work together to create an amazing body of written work. This gives teachers a valuable tool for reflection and planning. It lets parents look in on their childʼs life at school and find out not only what your child is learning, but also gives you insight about how and why they learn as they do. Perhaps itʼs most important job, is to provide children with an amazing record of their work and an avenue for self reflection.
There are three main areas to look for examples of how we document childrenʼs play. First, youʼll find articles posted outside your childʼs classroom in a designated spot for on-going communication. Second, you can find copies of all documents that feature your child in his or her journal. Finally each classroom has either a classroom newsletter, or a weekly e-mail update, which will include stories about the childrenʼs work in the classroom from that week.